The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) announced its disbandment on Tuesday.
The HKPTU, with over 95,000 members, was the city’s largest teachers’ union, representing over 90 per cent of the profession. It comes after the Education Bureau announced its decision to scrap all links with the union on July 31 – hours after the group came under fire in Chinese state media.
The state-run People’s Daily and news wire Xinhua slammed the union as a “poisonous tumour” that must be “eradicated.” A Hong Kong government spokesperson then accused it of “dragging schools into politics,” making reference to their organisation of a teacher’s strike during the city’s 2014 Umbrella Movement and the publication of teaching materials promoting civil disobedience.
“We have felt enormous pressure,” HKPTU President Fung Wai-wah told reporters during Tuesday’s press conference. “We understand that many members have a deep connection with the union, and feel sad about the disbanding of the HKPTU.”
Fung added that the union had tried hard to find ways to continue its operations, but still failed to find ways that “could solve the crisis.”
“I can only say that the social and political situation changed too fast and too quickly, and our decision was made in response to these changes,” said Fung.
After Tuesday’s announcement, a member of staff at one of the HKPTU’s service centres told HKFP that there were often queues for its services, but things were busier in recent days.
The decision was approved unanimously in a executive council meeting on Monday evening.
Fortnight of pressure
Since the government’s statement, the 48-year-old union quit the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and Education International, a global network of educators’ unions.
The HKPTU also vowed to “focus on the rights and interests of the education sector” following the government’s decision, and had also created a working committee to promote Chinese history and culture in order to foster “affection for home and country” among students.
As of Tuesday, the HKPTU said it will stop processing new membership applications and membership renewals, and will stop commenting on, or participating in, public affairs.
The HKPTU’s rights and complaints branch will also stop accepting new cases and enquiries, but Fung said that the union will aim to complete existing cases as soon as possible.
A ‘troubling pattern’
The security law, enacted by Beijing last June, has prompted a chill among civil society groups with several disbanding altogether. In July, the Progressive Lawyers Group, Progressive Teachers’ Alliance, medical group Médecins Inspirés and the Neo Democrats all ceased operations.
Joshua Rosenzweig of NGO Amnesty International said the disbandment of the HKPTU showed the level of fear among educators: “This is the latest in a troubling pattern in which the Hong Kong authorities readily heed strident but baseless calls targeting groups or individuals in Hong Kong. Having effectively neutralized the political opposition, the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities now appear to be ramping up attempts to wipe out civil society groups that have a strong mobilizing capacity – a disturbing development for other unions still operating in the city.”
The right to form and join labour unions is protected by the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and the national security law.
The EDB told local media that it has no comment on the HKPTU’s decision but said it will not affect the bureau’s work. The bureau said it will continue to collaborate with professional education groups that are “worthy of their names.”